• Justin Trudeau, Kas Guha, and Barj Dhahan

    We Should Support Immigrant Women Entrepreneurs

    Op-ed originally published in The Vancouver Sun on September 11, 2014

    Kas Guha came to Canada 10 years ago from an area in India known for silk manufacturing. Over the years, she has worked in many retail and non-profit jobs but she always dreamed of connecting Canadians with the beautiful weaving by artisans in her home region. She turned her dream into a reality in 2013 and launched Ethnik Yarn, bringing hand-woven textiles, apparel, and accessories made by artisans in several Indian villages to Canada.

    Kas’s story has me wondering how many other immigrant women have similar dreams that have not yet been realized. There are many efforts under way in Canada to ensure support for women in business, as well as programs to support immigrant entrepreneurs, but is enough being done for female immigrant entrepreneurs specifically?

    The importance of women in business is well documented. It has been found that organizations with more women in top management positions achieve 35-per-cent higher return on equity than their peers. Women also tend to be better team-builders, better at assessing the resources needed to accomplish certain goals, better at combining intuitive and logical thinking, and better at managing money. Women also tend to focus more on the greater good, engaging with communities and participating more actively in social responsibility projects. Ethnik Yarn, for example, sponsors campaigns to raise awareness about cervical cancer in Bengal, India.

    Yet the barriers to women in business persist. Women have a more difficult time securing financing for their businesses, which may be due to the bias of investors or other factors such as women’s tendency to take fewer risks than men. Many women also need to balance work with a greater share of responsibilities at home than their male counterparts, and as a result many women tend to get involved in business at a later stage in life, which can also be seen as a strike against them. Today, women still only represent 35 per cent of all self-employed people in Canada.

    Comparatively, Canada is doing well in terms of the number of over-all women in business; Statistics Canada reports almost half of all small- and medium-sized businesses are entirely or partly owned by women, and contribute to the creation of almost 10,000 jobs every year. There are a number of provincial programs to support women in business such as The Women’s Enterprise Initiative, which has offices in four provinces.

    In B.C., the provincial government has created the Women’s Economic Council to advise women in business and expand opportunities for women in key business sectors in the province. However, there is no national strategy specifically aimed at supporting women in business.

    Both federally and provincially, we recognize the importance of engaging with diaspora populations to share knowledge and grow the economy. The government of Canada offers support services for all Canadians hoping to start a new business, and last year announced a Start-Up Visa program to attract immigrant entrepreneurs to the country. Similarly, the B.C. Provincial Nominee Program provides information and support for newcomers hoping to start or bring their business to the province.

    But we have not explored sufficiently the ways in which we might leverage the knowledge and networks of female immigrants interested in starting businesses in Canada. Many immigrant women have unique skills, including market intelligence, that they have learned from their home countries, and innovative ideas that could contribute to their home communities as well as to Canada. But immigrant women also face unique challenges when coming to our country: Sexism and racism intersect in ways that can hold them back from realizing their full potential.

    By overlooking the role of female immigrant entrepreneurs in Canada, and the ways in which we might support them, we are potentially missing out on important opportunities to bolster international trade and create jobs both here and abroad. I applaud the various efforts, particularly at the provincial level, to support women in business and to encourage immigrant entrepreneurship, but I would also welcome a deeper look at policy and program initiatives that focus on female immigrant entrepreneurs. How can we support the Kas Guhas of our country to ensure we are not missing out on a potentially more creative and diverse society and economy?

  • Barj Dhahan Smiling

    News: India untapped opportunity for B.C. companies

    Originally published in Business in Vancouver on May 12, 2014.

    The number of students from India enrolling in Simon Fraser University has been rising steadily over the past four years but business connections between India and British Columbia are still hampered by a lack of easy access, according to a Surrey businessman.

     “India has gone through massive economic growth in the last 10 to 15 years,” said Barj Dhahan, who sits on Simon Fraser University’s India Advisory Council. “Amazing technological innovations are taking place in India. The middle class is growing by millions every year, the buying power in U.S. dollars is quite high, so those people have high aspirations for themselves and the goods and services they want. And so it offers opportunities for B.C., Surrey and Canadian businesses.”

    That growth has brought more students to B.C. from India such that they now make up around 4% of SFU’s international enrolment, Dhahan said.

    However, with that growth come growing pains. While Dhahan said India is receiving more recognition as a key international business partner, airline companies have been hesitant to follow suit.

    A key barrier to increasing B.C.’s business connections and opportunities in India, he said, is the lack of non-stop air service from Vancouver to India’s major cities.

    In November 2012, Business in Vancouver reported that Vancouver Airport Authority (YVR) executives were negotiating with carriers to launch non-stop flights to such places as Peru, Chile and India (“Airlines to launch new international non-stop services from Vancouver” – biv.com; November 20, 2012).

    However, in an interview at the time, YVR director of aviation marketing John Korenic noted that strong demand for business-class tickets was key to the viability of non-stop flights between Vancouver and major cities in India such as New Delhi.

    Anne Murray, YVR vice-president of marketing and communications, said Dhahan’s request is still on the authority’s radar.

    “India is a market that we are very interested in. We are constantly looking for an airline partner that could provide non-stop flights to India, the largest market with no direct service from YVR.”